A Writers Bloc workshop feature
Bloc Features is a new Writers Bloc project where we publish some of the best writing from our website, Australian and overseas journals, as well as debut and emerging novelists. This week's feature is from our very own workshop, The Brown Torana by Sam Salvidge.
I was bored. That's how shit like this always starts.
It was the school holidays. My best friend Anna was stuck at her auntie’s up in Lancelin so I called Billie instead. I didn't mind Billie but we weren't exactly besties. She was into boy bands and Shania Twain and I was into Nirvana and The Doors, but beggars can't be choosers. She invited me round to her place. I found a couple of bucks under the couch and caught the bus to Stirling Station. From there I walked to her place past endless rows of dumpy-looking brick houses.
When I arrived at Billie's, her mum was bringing in the groceries from the car. She looked frazzled and kind of pissed-off. Billie and I snuck into her bedroom so that we wouldn't have to help with the shopping. Billie's little brother Ricky, who was playing Mario Kart in the living room, got lumped with that job instead. We mouthed sucked in at him as he walked past Billie's window towards to the car. The little shit stuck his finger up at us, but that just made us laugh at him even more.
We hung out for a while just playing CDs and lying around talking crap, like where the best places to smoke at school were and what subjects we were going to do in Year 11. I wanted to do art and drama, and Billie was going to enrol in the VET program so that she could get a job in hairdressing. Then Billie started talking about Kieran like she always did. She went over how great his hair was, and how it was a particularly hot shade of brown, and how his body was so nice because it was muscley – but not too muscley – like Freddie Prince Jr. in I Know What You Did Last Summer. I let her go on like this for a while, because to be honest, I felt sorry for Billie. She was a big girl and Kieran was just never going to go there. It was sad because he did actually seem to like her, they always talked at school and he was never a dick to her. But yeah, it was never gonna happen. So anyway, Billie's going on and on about Kieran, so I'm like, “Why don't we go round there and see him?”
Billie laughed and said she was too nervous, and she said, “What if he's got his friends there and tells us to get lost?” and blah blah blah like that.
And so I said, “Well, then we'll leave and do something else won't we?”
So then Billie begins to get excited about the prospect of seeing Kieran and starts doing her hair and make-up like she was about to go to the Oscars.
I was like, “Seriously Billie, how desperate do you want to look? It's only 10am.”
I guess she must've realised how silly she was being because she washed most of the make-up off and then we were on our way.
It took hardly any time to get to Kieran's place ’cos he only lived a couple of minutes away. Billie was stressing out about seeing him because, even though they hang out a bit, I don't think she ever goes round to his house without an invite. But I was just like whatever and kind of stopped listening ’cos Billie really does go on and on sometimes.
We crunched our way up Kieran's red gravel driveway past a broken-down old Commodore up on blocks. We had to get past an out-of-control bottlebrush tree and a couple of dismembered bikes to get to his front door. I knocked a few times before anyone answered. Kieran's big brother Tim opened the door. I didn't really know Tim that well ’cos he's not at school anymore. Billie reckons he's got ADD or something, but I don't know. He's not hot, that's for sure. Looks like an angry donkey. Anyway he just kind of stood there for a bit staring at us vacantly and then yelled, “Kieran, your girlfriend's here!”
Billie almost wet herself about that but I felt bad for her ’cos I knew he was just being sarcastic.
Kieran came to the door without a shirt on. He had really cute bed hair.
He said, “Hey, how's it going? What are you doing over this way, Vic?”
I said, “Oh nothing much, I was just catching up with Billie and she wanted to see if you wanted to hang out?”
Billie turned bright red but I don't think he noticed.
Kieran nodded and said, “Cool, let me put some clothes on.”
He invited us to sit on the couch and while we were waiting Billie whispered to me, “God I wish he'd keep his shirt off!”
But I just ignored her ’cos she was being embarrassing. I looked around the room at the empty chip packets and dirty dishes all over the place. It didn't seem like Kieran's mum lived here anymore, ’cos no mum would let the house be in that much of a mess. They had a wicked TV though. After about five minutes Kieran came out of his room, looking fresh as in a blue t-shirt that was plain but expensive-looking, a pair of black Adidas track pants and white Nikes. He had a gold cross on too which looked good on him.
Kieran asked what we wanted to do. I was hoping for an invite into his bedroom so I smiled coyly at him and replied, “I dunno, what do you wanna do?”
He mustn’t have got the hint because he asked us if we wanted to check out the car he was working on. It was a bit of a let-down, but we both said yes, even though we didn't give a shit about cars.
We spent a few minutes looking at the Commodore's engine while he pointed out the spark plugs or whatever it was that he needed to change to get it running. I thought in my head, dude you are also going to need four tyres and a driver's licence before this car's going anywhere but I didn't want to offend him so I just smiled and nodded.
Maybe he could tell we were a bit over it because he closed the hood of the car and asked, “Wanna play cricket?”
It was a bit of a daggy suggestion but I said yes anyway ’cos, you know, why not?
Billie gets self-conscious doing physical things so of course she said no. People tease her in sport class sometimes and call her Jiggles. Which is mean, but also kind of funny.
Anyway, Billie sat on a milk crate by the car while I bowled underarm to Kieran, trying to hit the green wheelie bin we were using as the stumps. I only managed to hit it a couple of times ’cos Kieran was a really good batter. At one point he smashed the ball into his neighbour's backyard, and I had to give him a leg-up to jump the fence to get it back.
We played until we got bored and then sat down on the lone patch of crabgrass in his front yard to think about what to do next. Billie started pulling out blades of grass to try to make a friendship bracelet, but the grass was too dry and wouldn't bend properly.
I asked Kieran if he had any smokes but he said he didn't. He did have a lighter though so we mucked around for a bit setting things on fire. We started with some twigs from the bottlebrush, and then lit up some Big W catalogues that we found at the bottom of the letterbox. Kieran went and got a Lynx aerosol can from inside and showed us how to set the spray on fire to make little fireballs. It was kind of fun and kind of dumb. Anyway, we got bored of that too, and I asked what we should do next.
Kieran said he had an idea. We got up and followed him down the street back past Billie's place and up Trevilick Close. I figured that we must be going round to somebody's house but instead Kieran stopped next to this big green shit-mobile that was parked on the road near the end of the cul-de-sac. He kneeled down to look for something by the back wheel, and emerged with a rusty set of car keys on a Big Banana keychain.
Billie asked, “How did you know they were there?”
Kieran gave her a sly grin and said 'magic', twinkling his fingers. Then he shoved the keys into the lock on the car door and after a bit of a struggle it swung open with a creak. He jumped into the driver's seat and grabbed the massive steering wheel.
“Whose car is this?” Billie asked him.
Kieran said, “It's my uncle Amos's car. He won't mind us borrowing it for a bit, just as long as we put it back in the same spot after.”
Billie didn't seem to want to get in so I took the chance to jump into the front seat next to him, but she didn't want to be left out either so she got into the back seat. Kieran put the keys in the ignition and revved the engine. Fuck it was loud. I was sure one of the neighbours would notice what we were doing and we'd have to piss bolt, but no one came over.
Kieran slowly pulled the car out onto the street. Billie kept saying, “We're going to get in so much trouble!”
I was laughing like crazy ’cos it was just so funny to me that something was actually happening. Kieran accelerated and tried to get into second gear but the car started bunny-hopping and stalled. I was cackling, I really couldn't help myself. Kieran looked sheepish and told us that the car had a dodgy gearbox. He tried again and this time he got it going, and we cruised down the street. It was so fun. We only went a few hundred metres though before Kieran chucked a U-ey and pulled up onto the curb, knocking over the wheelie bin while he was at it.
Billie got out of the car and scampered over to the bin to pick it up. She looked so worried, like we were all going to be arrested for knocking over a bin. Kieran and I just laughed.
Then all of a sudden there was donkey face Tim hitting the side of the car and yelling at Kieran to get out. Kieran got out to talk to him and I jumped in the back with Billie to keep a low profile.
Tim was saying, “Are you fucking serious? Who said you could take Uncle Amos's car?”
Kieran was obviously used to dealing with his crazy brother and stayed cool and collected, telling him, “Uncle Amos is in Adelaide for work ’til next week. He'll never even know we took it if we fill it up with petrol and put it back in the same spot.”
Tim calmed down after hearing that, and got his smokes out of his shirt pocket and lit one up, breathing out a thick plume of smoke into the street. He looked over at the car and said to Kieran, “I wonder how fast that fucker can go?”
He sauntered over, leaned down by the side of the car window and said, “Girls, you looking for a joyride? I'll give you a fucking joyride!”
I wasn't so sure about this but Kieran jumped in the front, flashed us a big reassuring grin and then all of a sudden we were off.
Tim gunned it down Newcomen Road and onto Telford Crescent. We must've been going over eighty because all the houses the whole way down the street were zipping past my eyes like they were nothing. I rolled down the window and stuck my head out the window to feel the wind in my hair. For a second everything was perfect. Then Tim lit another smoke with the car lighter, and I leaned over and asked him for a quick drag. Tim leered at me and said, snickering, “Yeah, you can have a puff, right after you suck my cock.”
Billie's mouth fell open, and I stared at the back of his head, imagining how good it would be to blow his brains out instead.
Kieran tried to laugh it off, saying, “Piss off, Tim”, but I think he could tell we were upset because he turned on the radio and turned to us and started singing along to Wannabe by The Spice Girls, which was actually pretty funny.
We started to chime in for the chorus, but Tim got annoyed with us and started messing around with the radio dial trying to find a better station. The stereo just spewed out white noise instead. Then he turned a corner way too fast and the car skidded and smashed headfirst into a pole which made the biggest fucking bang I've ever heard in my life. The front window shattered and poured shards of glass at us like sideways rain.
I checked to see if I was hurt, and then looked over at Billie who looked as white as a ghost and like she might've just shat herself. I tried to open the door on my side but it was stuck, so I hauled myself out through the passenger window.
Kieran and Tim got out too, but Billie was still just sitting there in shock. Kieran opened the door for her and helped her out onto the street. She was shaking and gasping for air.
We all just stood there for a minute, just staring at the totalled car. Tim kept saying, “They're gonna fucken lock me up!”
Kieran ran his fingers through his hair, and asked Tim if we could all go home and pretend nothing happened. Tim yelled at Kieran and called him a fucking idiot, and said of course the cops are going to find out, since it was their uncle's car and they were the only ones who knew where he kept his keys.
Tim said, “We need to come up with a story.”
So we all just stood there waiting for him to come up with something. All I wanted to do was get away from him, but he was so angry I thought he might hit me if I tried to leave.
Tim swore a few more times, then pointed at me and said, “Okay, you've got to tell them that I was taking you to the train station, and that we were driving the speed limit, and that a car came out of nowhere going a hundred Ks an hour and ran us off the road. Tell them it was a brown Torana okay?”
I nodded, even though I had no idea what a brown Torana was, or why anyone would believe that Tim would be nice enough to drive me to the train station.
People started coming out of their houses to gawk at the accident. Billie saw her little brother Ricky in the crowd, who had turned up along with half the street to see what'd happened.
Billie rushed over to him, and said, “Ricky, don't tell Mum”, but he just turned and bolted down the street towards home. I couldn't believe how fast he could run. Billie and I took off after him, but we had no chance of catching him. I had to yell stop a few times before she gave up.
We went and sat behind a tree on an empty block of land to get our breath back. I looked at her tear-streaked face and said, “Billie, you've got to calm down okay?”
I said we had to go back to the car because we'd get in more trouble if we left a crime scene, and that, anyway, Tim would be the one who would get into trouble, not us ’cos we basically didn't even do anything wrong.
Billie kept crying and saying that she was going to be in so much trouble, and how we never should've gone to Kieran's, and that he was probably going to get sent to jail. So I said, “Billie, of course he's not going to be arrested, they don't arrest fifteen-year-olds. Tim's fucked though.”
By the time we'd walked back to the car, the cops had arrived and put yellow tape around the car.
Tim and Kieran were being interviewed by a couple of burly police officers. Kieran looked so little next to them. I saw Tim pointing us out.
The older cop sent the younger one over to question us. I was pretty freaked out but tried not to show it. He asked us our names and addresses and what we were doing in the car.
I said we thought it was their uncle's car, and that I was getting a lift to the station. Then he asked us if another car was involved in the accident. I looked over at Tim, who was pointing out the location of his imaginary brown car.
I said, “Nope, there was no other car. Tim was just driving like crazy and that's why we crashed.”
Billie gaped at me, and I glared right back, ’cos no guy was worth this amount of shit. Billie kept her mouth shut. The cop nodded and wrote it all down in his little notepad, and said, “Okay girls, thanks for the information” and walked off.
I whispered to Billie, “Let’s get out of here” and we walked off quickly in case the cops tried to call us back.
I heard Tim shouting behind us, “Seriously? They're lying! Another car ran us off the road! It was a brown fucking Torana!”
The Brown Torana was chosen for this week's feature in light of Salvidge's stellar work in developing an authentic voice. While Vic can be seen as an unremarkable teenager from the suburbs, her voice engages the reader and draws them right along to the end of the tale. Vic is strangely likeable despite her self-absorbed and judgemental nature because Salvidge shows us an inner core of strength and her determination to not simply take the world as she finds it.
Edited and selected by Raphaelle Race.
Sam Elkin is a writer and community lawyer living in Sydney, Australia. Sam is undertaking a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology, Sydney, and is working on a collection of stories about Western Australia. Sam's work has previously appeared in Vertigo magazine, Same Same and Cottonmouth.